ALGONQUIN – Rolls of bison hide and leather, multiple sewing machines and zippers so waterproof it takes 20 pounds of force to open them are stocked in Rishi Bhati's basement.
The Algonquin resident has made the basement his workshop in crafty custom bags and camera straps that he sells online, shipping to 25-plus countries, and at B&H Photo Video in Manhattan – and soon, at Orphics, a Sunset Strip boutique in Los Angeles.
Bhati isn't kidding when he says custom.
One customer, he said looking over the page-long request and six pages of subsequent exchanges, requested a bag that he could "drop into the Amazon and then fish out and check [his] email."
"I want the bag to be black, not reflective," the email said. "This bag is for people who want to fly under the radar, don't want to be too flashy, zip through airports, walk into a bar, hop on a motorcycle. No one notices. No one cares."
Bhati ended up making the backpack out of ballistic nylon lined with fusible waterproof material and using deep sea diving zippers on each of the compartments.
Another customer requested a bag made of bison hide, specifying the details down to what kind of threads he wanted used. With all the pockets and trappings, the final product weighed 11 pounds, Bhati said.
"Even if you tried to break it, it would take three people to break that bag," he said. "I stitched it along here. I stopped and locked the stitches, and I put rivets all over the place. Everything is being held by rivets for his particular bag."
Bhati loves the challenge his customers present, figuring out solutions to the scenarios they propose, and he enjoys working in atypical materials like the bison hide and parachute buckles – a nod to his interest in aviation.
"I like the toughness, the perceived toughness," he said. "I like buckles, not any buckle. It should look really rugged. It can be tarnished. It can be old, but I like buckles and I like to combine that with my design."
Bhati quit his job as an electrical and computer engineer for a corporate airline in 2008 because he knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur, he said.
His first venture was Plattoes Sandals, customizable sandals with interchangeable ribbons. They're still for sale, but it's not his focus right now.
At the time, he didn't know anything about designing and making bags. He didn't even own a sewing machine until he purchased one off Craigslist for $20 for his daughter's school project. (He recently purchased a heavy-duty sewing machine designed for making saddles.)
Inspired by an interest in photography, he made camera straps and bags for his own use, later translating that into his two product lines, Sizzlestrapz for the camera straps and in 2011, when he expanded into bags, sizhfleur.
He also makes bags for bartenders and doctors, professionals who need to carry around a lot of supplies. He sells his products through a variety of websites, but his main outlet is Etsy, a online marketplace for vintage and handmade items.
Originally from Mumbai, India, Bhati moved to the U.S. 16 years ago. He has lived in Algonquin for years.
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Rishi Bhati, an Algonquin resident, designs and makes custom camera straps and bags that he sells online. To find Sizzlestrapz and sizhfleur products, go to Esty.com and search for Sizzlestrapz.